09/06/2012 11:15 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

'Looper' Review: 7 Movies You Should Watch Before Seeing Rian Johnson's Excellent Thriller

As it turns out, "Looper" isn't the "Drive" of 2012. It's better. Rian Johnson's twisty sci-fi thriller (which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday and arrives in theaters on Sept. 28) is more than just a dreamy exercise in artsploitation: It's an all-out action film, a thoughtful visual manifestation of "youth is wasted on the young," and proof that mothers are the most important people on Earth. "Looper" is also about time travel, mobsters, drugs, telepathy and the magic of movie makeup. (Kudos to Johnson and makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji for getting Joseph Gordon-Levitt to look like Bruce Willis.)

The story of "Looper" is about as knotted as a pretzel. Here's how IMDb describes it: "In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe (Gordon-Levitt), who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by transporting back Joe's future self (Willis)."

That's about right ... but it's also about 30 percent of the film. The beauty of Johnson's work (as well as the marketing campaign that has accompanied it so far) is that many of the secrets "Looper" has to offer have been kept under wraps. Of course, the lack of plot spoilers is a double-edged sword. As "Drive" proved, people hate being "fooled" by trailers; after its opening weekend, the box office tally for Nicolas Winding Refn's film suffered. To prevent the roundly excellent "Looper" from befalling the same fate, HuffPost Entertainment has compiled a list of seven films that were brought to mind while watching "Looper." If you love any of these, the chances are good you'll love Johnson's latest as well.

The surface comparisons are inevitable -- hot director making a genre film with the leading man of the moment -- but while "Looper" is superior to "Drive," both films have that feeling of cool while watching. Love or hate, everyone the internet will be discussing "Looper" throughout the rest of 2012.

"X2: X-Men United"
No spoilers, but remember all that stuff about telepathy in "X2: X-Men United"? Yeah, keep that in mind.

"12 Monkeys"
"Looper" is smart science-fiction about time travel with Bruce Willis as co-star. What else are you going to compare it to?

"Blade Runner"
Johnson gets a lot of bang for his buck in "Looper," which looks like it cost $150 million but was actually budgeted at a fraction of that amount. From the dystopian cityscapes of Kansas City to the stolid voice over provided by Gordon-Levitt, the film recalls the best parts of "Blade Runner," though without any androids or Sean Young appearances.

"The Town"
There's a moment in "Looper" when Willis goes Willis on an army of bad guys, and he's so determined that it recalls the moment in "The Town" when Ben Affleck's master thief decides to shoot his way out of Fenway Park. Even the way the two men hold their machine guns are the same.

"Star Wars - Episode VI: Return of the Jedi"
OK, one spoiler: In the future, people have motorcycles that look an awful lot like speeder bikes.

"The Twilight Zone: It's a Good Life"
Technically not a film -- though "It's a Good Life" does appear in the 1983 "Twilight Zone" movie -- this episode of "The Twilight Zone" is key to understanding much of "Looper" and the hidden power it wields. In fact ... well, you'll just have to see "Looper" yourself when it comes out on Sept. 28 to find out more.

Looper Premieres At TIFF